Monday, September 14, 2009

Meet The Mentor

Dennis DeVendra, an Ohio State alum who is blind, has a high-tech career at American Electric Power. He's helping Ohio State teach students with disabilities that they can pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Click here to see the video.

To view flash video, this browser needs the Flash 8 (or higher) plug-in

Dennis DeVendra is an Ohio State alum who turns wood and teaches yoga when he's not working in his high-tech job as a manager at American Electric Power. He's the primary cook at home. When he lived in upstate New York, he took downhill skiing classes.

DeVendra has never let his blindness stand in his way.

That's what makes him such a great mentor of students with disabilities, says Margo Izzo, program director at Ohio State's Nisonger Center, an interdisciplinary service and research center that serves people with disabilities.

"He has high expectations," Izzo says. "Dennis doesn't accept 'no' as an answer. He just expects students to rise up to a very high level of being independent and getting out and participating in the world as fully as possible."

DeVendra participates in an Ohio State program that connects mentors to students who have disabilities and are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, known collectively as STEM.

Izzo says students with disabilities are sometimes steered away from high-tech careers by teachers and parents who "want to protect them."

But she says there's nothing to prevent students with a wide range of disabilities--both physical, like blindness or hearing problems, and development, like Asperger's Syndrome and autism--from succeeding in the high-tech fields "where the jobs are now and will be in the future."

"We're very interested in recruiting students with disabilities, because these are the jobs of the future," she says.

The careers aren't just in high demand. They also pay well: workers in the field earned 70 more than the national average in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2004 and 2014, the bureau estimates 2.5 million workers will enter the high-tech fields.

That's why Ohio State has joined forces with other state institutions of higher education to form the Ohio Ability Alliance. The group--which includes Wright State University, Sinclair Community College, and Columbus State Community College--is working to increase the numbers of students with disabilities who receive high-tech degrees from member schools. (Ohio State had about 100 STEM graduates with disabilities last year, she says.)

The alliance was created with a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It recently received $2.7 million in Choose Ohio First Scholarships, design to help Ohio's colleges prepare students to enter the high-tech workforce. Qualified students will receive aid ranging from $1,500 to $4,700.

"The Ability Alliance is really supporting a pathway for students," Izzo says. "We're identifying students who might have the potential to solve some of the big issues that our country is dealing with in terms of energy and terrorism and accomplishing world peace and overcoming poverty."


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home